As India and China continue to face off along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday instructed officials to expedite the construction of the new USD 47.8 billion railway project connecting the country’s southwest Sichuan province to Linzhi in Tibet close to the Indian border in Arunachal Pradesh, saying it would play a key role in safeguarding stability in the border areas.

CONSTRUCTION

Construction of the Ya’an-Nyinchi railway line is a priority for the Chinese government; President Xi Jinping recently called for speeding up the completion of the project. He cited the railway line’s importance for the implementation of the Chinese Communist Party’s plans for Tibet’s governance and the project’s role in securing China’s national unity and stability in the border areas. China has been developing overland infrastructure into and inside Tibet. Overland connectivity, especially mass transport via trains, has the potential to enhance Tibet’s economic development via trade and tourism. It also helps Beijing tighten its military and administrative control of the region as it will facilitate rapid deployment of a large number of soldiers there.

The Sichuan-Tibet Railway starts from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, and travels through Ya’an and enters Tibet via Qamdo, shortening the journey from Chengdu to Lhasa from 48 hours to 13 hours. Linzhi, also known as Nyingchi, is located close to the Arunachal Pradesh border. The India-China border dispute covers the 3,488-km-long Line of Actual Control, the de-facto border between the two countries. China claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of south Tibet which is firmly rejected by India. Linzhi also has an airport which is one of the five airports built by China in the Himalayan region.

The Ya’an-Linzhi section runs 1,011 km with 26 stations. Trains are expected to run at speeds between 120 and 200 km per hour. The total cost of the entire Sichuan-Tibet Railway project is around 319.8 billion yuan ($47.8 billion), according to a recent report by the state-run Global Times. Dual-use airports near the Arunachal border are being upgraded. Located in a “winding valley, one such airport is “one of the most challenging instrument approaches in the world.”

Recent reports also indicate that the Chamdo Bangda Airport, located just 160 kilometers from Arunachal Pradesh is being upgraded. The airport is located at a height of 4,400 meters. Clearly, when it comes to strategic infrastructure in Tibet and especially infrastructure near the disputed border with India, Beijing is not deterred by the challenging physical environment.

Although India has been building up its infrastructure along the LAC at Arunachal Pradesh, whether in terms of connectivity or military muscle, it is nowhere near matching that of China.

CHINA’S STATEMENT

On October 13, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs had said that Beijing doesn’t recognize “Ladakh Union Territory and Arunachal Pradesh.” And in a statement, Chinese MFA said that Ladakh Union Territory is a region “illegally established by India”

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